Workout Series: Finding Your Treasure Chest

The amount of weight someone can bench press is often offered as a way to measure strength and the gains made at the gym. Although the bench press is a great exercise for developing chest muscles, there are many variations and other exercises to help you build a "Treasure Chest." As with any other exercise routine... variety is the spice of life! It's a good idea to alternate different exercises and the way you do the exercises to keep your muscles stimulated and avoid a plateau. Below is some information about the chest muscle and how to get the most out of your workouts.

Muscle: pectoralis major
Attachments: it starts in the center of the chest and attaches to the humerus (the upper bone of the arm)
Action: horizontal adduction of the arm (bringing your upper arms together in front of your body). Another action of the chest muscle is to push resistance away from your body. If you notice while doing this, you're also bringing your upper arms closer together in front of your body so it's really the same movement.

Tips:

  • Keeping the action and attachments in mind is the most effective way to stimulate the chest and minimize using other muscles. Knowing what the muscle does and what part of the body it moves can make a big difference in performing exercises properly.
  • Your arms should remain perpendicular to your body throughout any chest press exercise. You should also stop when you reach a 90-degree bend in your elbow during the eccentric (relaxing) phase. Going below a 90-degree bend when lifting a heavy load increases shearing forces on the shoulder joint but it's OK if not lifting a heavy load.
  • When doing chest presses on a flat bench, is it important to bring the bar down to your chest? The answer is "No." Some people may be able to touch the bar to their chest, but that depends on the length of their forearms and the size of their chest.
  • Use a slow controlled movement to help emphasize the muscle. Building momentum or "bouncing" the bar off your chest removes much of the resistance from your chest muscle.
  • Lifting your lower back of the pad or bench will increase your risk of injury. If you have to do that to complete a movement... lower the weight and focus on your technique.

Exercises:

Push-Up: lie on the floor with your hands shoulder width apart, push your body off the floor so that your hands and toes are supporting your body weight. Draw your belly button into your spine and squeeze your glutes. This increases spinal stabilization and allows for better force production out of the muscles while protecting the spine. Lower yourself towards the floor until there is a 90-degree bend in your elbows and then return to the starting position. Complete as many as you can, rest and then do another set. The number of sets and reps are dependent on your individual goals.

Variations: if the traditional push-up is too difficult, you can support your weight on your knees rather than your toes. Still too difficult... you can also start by standing and pushing yourself away from a wall. Too easy... try decline push-ups by resting your feet on a bench or sturdy chair. For a real challenge... try push-ups with on an exercise ball (either feet or hands).

Bench Press: lie on a flat bench and lift a loaded barbell or dumbbells over your chest. Slowly lower the weight until there is a 90-degree bend in your elbows (refer to tip above); then slowly press the weight back to the starting position. Repeat for 8-15 reps, rest and then do another set. The number of sets and reps are dependent on your individual goals.

Variations: this can also be done on an incline chair, using cables (standing or on an incline chair) or with one of the many machines.

Chest Flyes: lie on a flat bench, holding a pair of dumbbells over your chest with your palms facing each other. With your elbows slightly bent, lower your arms out towards your side. Stop when your elbows are at a 90-degree angle and your forearms are perpendicular to your body. Slowly press your arms back to the starting position. Flyes using cables are much more effective than dumbbells because the line of gravity changes with dumbbells when adducting horizontally. The net effect is that you lose a lot of the resistance. Repeat for 8-15 reps, rest and then do another set. The number of sets and reps are dependent on your individual goals.

Variations: this can also be done on an incline chair, using cables (standing or on an incline chair) or using machines.

Changing the arm position (incline, decline, etc.) or using a stability ball with dumbbells while performing any of these movements is a variation. Try alternating these exercises into your chest workout and periodically make changes to keep your muscles growing. In no time flat, you'll have the treasure chest of your dreams.


This information and other information on this site is intended for general reference purposes only and is not intended to address specific medical conditions. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or a medical exam. Prior to participating in any exercise program or activity, you should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition.